Our Golden boy ruled the world
Steve Cram headlined in the golden age of British athletics when he, Seb Coe and Steve Ovett were gladiators all and the globe belonged most definitely to us.
He was the Commonwealth, European and World champion in the blue riband event, the metric mile, and an Olympic silver medallist.
Within the space of 19 glorious days in the summer of 1985, Cram smashed world records at 1500m, 2000m and the mile, the latter lasting for almost nine years.
Never since has British dominance been so all-consuming, so magical, that the rest of the world gawped in jealous admiration.
Cram was the young, long-striding Geordie who dared challenge - and eventually overpower - the elite domain of Coe and Ovett.
The nation couldn't get enough.
Athletics even overtook football as the sport which dominated live television.
Such was the fascination and dripping drama that programmes would be delayed or even cancelled altogether to accommodate track head-to-heads which were running late.
Now chairman of the English Institute of Sport, Cram's job is to financially support, polish and direct Britain's young talent for an assault on the 2012 Olympics in London.
Try how he may, I very much doubt that a new Cram, Coe or Ovett is out there waiting, pimples and all, to burst upon our awareness.
Steve is still a significant part of athletics on TV as one of the BBC's big name commentators but he readily accepts that the early eighties was very much a different era when track was indeed a sport of kings.
"Of course the Olympics can still produce good viewing figures, but in those days you could get a 10 million audience to watch a meet in Nice on a Tuesday night," he smiled. "There's no way you could do that these days.
"I recall running against Ovett at Crystal Palace on a Friday in September of 1983 after I'd won the World Championships - it was the last meeting of the BBC's contract and they delayed the news to beam out our race live.
"It was a cat-and-mouse affair - we both started off running at the back of the field. I beat him by little more than the thickness of a vest. It was an epic encounter, the one most athletics buffs remember and always bring up when talking to me. Athletics was certainly huge back then.
"There wasn't as much football on television and I suppose the public have always gone for the 100m, the fastest man on earth, or the metric mile because of the history and the drama.
"Perhaps 5000 or 10,000m are beyond the natural attention span - but don't tell Bren!
"Actually, Foster and others started off the whole live television thing and we were able to carry it on and increase the interest because Britain had the top three milers in the world."
Cram's description of his defeat of Ovett hardly does the race justice.
It was hailed as the most thrilling two-man battle seen in Britain since Chris Chattaway's epic dual with Vladimir Kuts at the White City in 1954.
Cram proved the theory that it was possible to run the finish out of Ovett whose lunge for the tape was recorded perfectly for posterity. It appeared to show the world record holder bowing to the new king. When Cram glanced over his shoulder for the first time in 1500 metres it was as though he were looking back at the passing of an era.
I asked Steve to give us a unique insight into the Coe, Ovett, Cram legend which mesmerised a generation.
"We were all different people but I related more to Ovett because we came from a similar background of cross country and the roads," Cram told me.
"He had a simplistic approach to running whereas Coe was more scientific and clinical.
"Seb was more likely to pull out because his blood tests were not right whereas Ovett would just say `b******s' and so would I.
"When we were younger, Steve and I spent more time together on trips arranged by Andy Norman.
"Ovett was actually very helpful to me in those days but when I became more competitive he changed, which was understandable. I was a threat then.
"I never knew Coe at all during my tracks days. He was polite but kept his distance.
"I first actually saw him in the flesh when he was running in the yellow vest of Hallam at Nottingham. He was such a tiny figure I thought it couldn't be him. I was expecting a huge guy.
"We didn't have a relationship as competitors but through the work we both do now, I've got to know Seb well and he's great company."
So what were the strengths of three of the best middle distance runners of all time?
"Ovett had an arrogance, a swagger," said Cram. "He had a great barrel chest and was naturally gifted with a blistering change of pace.
"Coe was the more natural middle distance runner from 400m up to 1500m.
"No matter what the pace of a race he could accommodate it - he was probably the more difficult to run against. I always felt that Ovett give you a chance but Seb could kick off a slow pace or maintain a quick pace. I had a combination of all those things but my strength was a huge factor.
"I wasn't blessed with natural speed - I was ponderous over 400m as a kid. I was long legged and at 17 or 18 I loped. Later my stride was an asset."
Cram went on: "I was four or five years younger than Ovett and Coe which meant we didn't always face one another.
"The only time all three of us probably did over 1500m was in the Olympic final in Los Angeles when Seb won and I took silver.
"Ovett was ill and stepped off the track at the bell while I was nowhere near 100% fit and I would have needed to be to beat Coe that day. I'd been injured and I'd never raced in the build-up to Los Angeles. So I guess it wasn't a true race in many ways."
Coe went crackers at the finish, his face contorted as he pointed angrily towards the Press box.
"The reason was the controversy that raged in Britain before the Olympics," explained Cram.
"Ovett and I were pre-selected and the third competitor was supposed to be the winner of the trials.
"Peter Elliott beat Seb at the trials but a huge campaign was launched in the newspapers. Some took up the cudgel that the reigning Olympic champion - Coe - must be allowed to defend his crown and suggested Elliott was a bit of a donkey from Yorkshire.
"Others demanded Peter had earned the right to go which is why when he crossed the line Seb exploded."
Just as Crystal Palace proudly boasted of Cram v Ovett, the International Stadium in Gateshead was the venue of an epic Cram v Coe confrontation that has passed into Geordie folklore.
A record crowd of 15,000 was shoe- horned into the bowl on the banks of the Tyne with local hero Cram taking on Coe over 800m.
There was a five-minute delay before the BBC were ready to beam out the race live on their Sunday Grandstand programme, but when it got under way it was dynamic.
Cram wasn't a renowned half-miler, whereas Coe was, but he beat him into fourth place amid pandemonium.
"It was my last race before the World Championships in Helsinki and afterwards Seb announced he wouldn't be going," said Steve.
"He was supposed to have a virus but I always kid him nowadays that what he had was myxomatosis!"
Cram was to triumph in spectacular style that summer of 1983, beating Ovett to become the first ever 1500m world champion. A glittering place in history that can never be taken away from him.
Page 2: Bren tip pays off